Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Labour's basic presumptions are false


So as you will know by now, 'Public Policy and the Past' is no fan of the UK's ruling Conservative Party - at least in its present guise. Almost everything it tells you is just flat wrong. Philosophically, it is barren. Its policies are threadbare. The remedies it espouses - from the mythical Brexit dividend, via help for homebuyers, through expanding grammar schools and on to their vaguer and even less convincing appeal to 'equality of opportunity' - are at best wrongheaded, and at worst cruel fictions designed to fool the many at the cost of the few. They are overdue, and more than overdue, for an electoral drubbing.

So this month, we thought we'd look at the other side of the fence. What, if anything, can Labour's policy offer achieve (above)? If the Conservatives are in such trouble - and the signs of incipient civil war are there for all to see - are the official Opposition's ideas any better? We are less than convinced. The public aren't all that keen: opinion polls right now are pretty much deadlocked, with a historically unusual (albeit small) lead for the governing party as they toil unconvincingly into their ninth year of government. And, to be frank, you shouldn't be impressed either. For Labour's ideas, such as they are, are based on folk knowledge and prejudices that just don't really pass muster in detail. That being the case, British politics will have to struggle on with two sets of preconceptions that are simply not fit to bear the burden placed on them. Don't believe us? Here are four examples.

Most new jobs are on zero-hours contracts. Well, no, not really. It's a standard Left critique of Britain's puzzlingly-strong jobs market that employment growth is all in bad jobs. It's been repeated by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister's Questions. It's very misleading. For one thing, we're talking about quite a small number of jobs here - less than a million, and less than three per cent of all employment. And most job creation recently has been in full-time, permanent roles: in the last year, for instance, full-time roles have increased much faster than part-time ones. Now they haven't yet replaced the great big hole in that part of the labour market that the crisis of 2007-2008 ripped out of that part of the job market, but they're not now far away.

Labour has pledged to ban zero hours contracts. But what statistics we have show that both their absolute number, and the number of businesses using them, are now in decline after a very rapid rise in their number between 2012 and 2015. In fact, Labour is tilting at a windmill here. For one thing, lots of people - young workers or students, for instance - might quite like zero hours contracts. Her Majesty's Opposition would be much better off focusing on the world of work more widely: on the very rapid growth of self employment in particular, but also on on the whole question of supposedly full-time posts and apparently permanent contracts that seem much more likely to add up to a string of jobs rather than one simple-to-understand career. The much-heralded but very undersketched idea of a 'National Education Service' might do some of that work. But unless and until they accept that they're fixing on the wrong problem here - and one very small part of the overall jigsaw - Labour will have to go some to stand up their plans in any credible manner.

Britain has the most expensive railways in the world. Sort of, but sort of not. If you rock up at a UK mainline rail station and try to buy a peak-time ticket, you'll get fleeced compared to the prices you would pay in comparable European nations. So far, so familiar. But book ahead a bit, even a day in advance, and you're likely to do okay - especially if you want a return ticket. Don't believe us? Here's a not-so-random selection of comparisons from people who do know. Once you understand that, two key insights follow. The first? This is a highly redistributive and progressive system aimed at charging business travellers - and especially business travellers who want or need high levels of flexibility - in order to subsidise everyone else. And it's exactly the system you would expect if you were looking at an old railway, squeezed at vital bottlenecks into very tight urban areas, which is suffering from capacity constraints during a period of enormous success and passenger growth. That is, Britain's rail fares price congestion at peak times, so as to spread the load. Whoever owns them will have to do the same.

Don't expect new state-owned Train Operating Companies to start slashing fees where they are relatively high, because if they do, they'll be letting high-end businesses off the hook and choking our railways to death. Now we could go on and on about this, but the mental picture so common among Left-wing Britons - of profiteers gouging passengers - just isn't true. They are highly regulated. They make very low profits, as these things are measured (which is one reason why they struggle to make the whole thing work). Other problems are more complex than they appear. Old-fashioned ticketing systems? Mandated by the very Department for Transport that would be in control of nationalisation. Inadequate capital spending, broken points and out-of-the-ark signalling? Already nationalised. Now you could nationalise the Train Operating Companies. There would probably be some gains to integration. Would it change all that much? Probably not.

Inequality is getting worse, and has been getting worse for years. Now this one is pretty contentious, and the big-ticket answer is 'it depends what you mean by inequality, and it definitely depends on how you're measuring it'. Overall, the headline Gini Coefficient measure of inequality, which looks at the income of top earners against those of the less well-off, shot up in the early- to mid-1980s, before reaching a plateau in the early 1990s and then gently drifting slightly downwards during the years of John Major, New Labour and the Coalition. So far, so not-particularly-controversial. Slightly more controversially, and little noted among the 2010-15 government's many failings, it did actually continue to fall under Chancellor Osborne too - partly due to strong real income growth towards the end of his tenure, and partly because behind his cut to the highest rate of Income Tax he stealthily made things rather less comfortable for higher-middle earners (via income tax thresholds), as well as asset-rich landlords, investors and the like.

To some extent this highly counterintuitive picture might be a little bit of a statistical artefact, because it's quite hard to capture the earnings of the really wealthy (especially when they move around), and if we delve into thismore closely, it might be that inequality has been at best stable, and at worst rising slightly. There's no sign of that in terms of wealth inequality, which we'd have expected to rise if that was the case - this has been held down by pension auto-enrollment, accruing capital for ordinary people - but it might be that inequality has been bumping along at about the same level it's been at for years. Even so: here again, Labour is really not homing in on the real problem. Inequality isn't surging. Anger and confusion over the boundaries and function of the job market are. If you're in work, low inflation, tax credits and lower income tax (via rising thresholds) have at least helped you regain your ground by now. Where the pain is really acute is at the margins of the working world, for instance for those people who the Department for Work and Pensions imagine will be 'encouraged' (read: pushed) into working under 16 hours a week by the inception of Universal Credit (opens as PDF: see page eight). Or for those people with lots of problems who are nevertheless being moved into jobs and are going to find it very, very challenging to manage the constant to-and-fro of employment and benefit changes. That's where the real attention needs to head - as soon as possible.

University fees are deterring working-class kids from getting on. Again, this is at least arguable, and it's certainly not an open-and-shut case given that the number of undergraduates from poorer backgrounds have definitely been rising in recent years. Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner (usually a rather impressive politician in many ways) has gone out of her way to single out fees as the reason universities' social profile is still so narrow - and been forced into at least a partial retreat. It's hard to be sure, because there is no one accepted yardstick for who is from a 'disadvantaged background' and who isn't, but it does seem as if lower-income youngsters have closed the gap just a little bit on better-off students in recent years. Certainly that gulf hasn't widened. The percentage of students who used to claim free school meals has gone up a bit. Those coming into English universities from poorer postcodes has also increased a little bit more quickly than those entering HE from other districts (though if we look at a wider basket of indicators, the picture is quite static).

Against most of our instincts, and probably yours too, the tripling of fees in 2010 hasn't actually made things worse. Now you could build a counterfactual in which numbers from non-traditional backgrounds went up even faster if tuition was free, but it's hard to be sure - and there are some good reasons to believe that they wouldn't. In fact, countervailing the undoubtedly daunting debt numbers has been the fact that fees have allowed the cap to come off student rolls, facilitating an expansion that is letting more students in than ever before. Given that Labour will want 'value for money' if and when it's paying for everything in Higher Education again, we wouldn't give you much chance that the cap won't come back when they're in charge - something that will throttle working-class life chances more than anything, as we've already seen in Scotland.

Now we know that there's a risk of setting up a series of straw men here. Not everything that left-wing Labour types hold close to their hearts is wrong. Britain's public sphere is - literally - crumbling, with local government services in particular having been made to take the strain of nearly a decade of cuts that's leaving the cupboard bare for any more. Simply put, there's not much else to cut before you lop off a limb: one of the reasons for the support Labour is marshalling among middle-income and middle-aged Britons worried about their local roads, libraries, parks, high streets... and, most of all, what on earth they are going to do if their elderly parents need looking after. The privatisation of core non-commercial functions of the British state (such as the prison service) has been a disastrous failure. And even if inequality as a whole has not been rising, the level of egregious cruelty meted out by the Conservatives' welfare 'reforms' is at such a pitch that most people can tell you a bleak and tragic story of an uncaring or unwilling state that simply isn't there for anyone any more.

But putting those very real problems into the mix with a more general (and mythic) critique blurs the focus. Everywhere you look, it's just misrepresentation after illusion after distortion. You know that 'youthquake' that was supposed to be a key part of Labour's surge upwards at the 2017 election? It didn't happen. Remember all those empty homes in London, bought up by rich foreign investors and left empty, to the detriment of everyone else looking for a home? Outside of some upscale hotspots, we're talking pretty small numbers here, and very few even of those are actually empty. Heard of that Private Finance Initiative that's bankrupting public services? It peaked twelve years ago, and it never constituted more than fifteen per cent of capital formation in the public sector.

This kind of dross actually lets the Government off the hook, and diverts us from thinking about real world structures and solutions. Labour's surge was actually powered by the middle aged and the middle class. Young people's housing woes are caused by an ageing society and a ridiculously tight planning system. The NHS has been tanked by tiny real real terms funding increases, not really by its building costs. And so on. Take those four examples we've highlighted here. What would constitute actually-relevant answers to our true problems?

You can probably guess the thrust from the discussion above, but here's some thoughts. Banning short-term contracts is probably going to cause more problems than it solves (as many tasks are driven underground): more sophisticated labour market regulation is usually better than binary yeses and noes to anything. Nationalisation is unlikely to be more than a palliative or a short-term boost for Britain's railways, while medium-sized wodges of government cash could lift capacity constraints and ease bottlenecks better than rebadging things ever could. Big increases in public service spending and tax changes should be focused on areas and groups where most can be done, rather than sprayed around indiscriminately; while bringing back grants and reforming fees for students from low income backgrounds, and above all focusing on part-time education, would be much more likely to change the mix in English HE than simply abolishing fees altogether.

At the moment, British voters are faced with an unpalatable menu that amounts to what we've elsewhere called 'Brexit versus nationalisation'. The Right is busy kidding itself that it can reinvent the 1950s. The Left seems to be bodging up a faux 1970s. Labour's members, and to a lesser extent the new white-collar electoral alliance they reflect, understand the world through a particular prism: one in which Britain is failing because it is not settled enough, not organised enough, not equal enough, and not educated enough. While there's some truth to that - and has long been truth to that -  there's little evidence that the remarkable break-point in the UK's productivity record experienced at the time of the Great Recession (and at the heart of so many of our problems) has its roots in any of those long-term structural failings. Otherwise, the country's productivity would have stagnated in the 2000s just as much as it has in the 2010s. Reader, it didn't.

There are some good ideas on the Left. The new Centre for Towns has some. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell's nascent co-operative agenda - far, far more likely to do good and stick than some of his bizarre Ministry of Works-style organigrams - is another good place to start. But overall Left Britain is living in a bit of a narrow comfort zone. More and more, its ideas look like a cluttered mantelpiece of tat, with a Post-It here, a battered Wally Dog there, and a load of pens in coffee-stained mugs everywhere else. A trail that tells a story: but not a coherent one, and not really an appealing one either.

12 comments:

  1. إذا كنت ترغب في الحصول على مياه نقية افضل شركة كشف تسربات بالقصيم و خالية من الجراثيم و الميكروبات فلابد ان تقوم بتوفير افضل شركة عزل خزانات بالقصيم أجود خامات العزل على الخزان و التي يتم تركيبها في الجدرا و في قاع الخزان و ذلك من اجل المحافظة افضل شركة اسطح خزانات بالقصيم على منع تعرض أشعة الشمس بشكل مباشر على المياه و تسلطها بشكل افضل شركة مكافحة حشرات بالقصيم دائم مما يؤدي إلى التغيير في الخواص الفيزيائية في مكونات المياه

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  2. لدى الصراصير جهاز استشعار شركة تنظيف بالبخار بجدة حساس جدًا موجود في قرونها مع العلم أنها شركة مكافحة حشرات بجدة لا عين لها ولا تستطيع الرؤية لكنها إن دخلت شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة في منزل فإنها سرعان ما تهاجمه وبالتالي يصعب السيطرة شركة تنظيف شقق بجدة عليها حيث أنها تتكاثر بسرعة وبأعداد كبيرة فإذا كان منزلك به صراصير شركة مكافحة البق بجدة فمن الأفضل الاتصال بشركة متخصصة للقضاء عليها في الحال.

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  3. في البداية نحرص عبلي شركة تنظيف بالبخار بجدة ان يتم تفريغ الخزان من المياه شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة و من بعدها نقوم بتوفير النظافة الدقيقة شركة مكافحة العتة بجدة لجميع اجزاءه الداخلية و الخارجية و من شركة مكافحة حشرات بجدة بعدها نحرص علي ان يتم اتباع افضل مواد العزل الامنة و التي شركة مكافحة النمل الابيض بجدة لا يمكن ان تلحث اي نوع من الضرر بالانسان و لهذا تواصل معنا عزيزي العميل لتجد خدمة تنظيف للخزان الخاص بالمنزل

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  4. من الممكن أن يحصل العملاء شركة تجهيز ملاعب على أفضل أنواع النجيل الصناعي التي يرغبون شركة نجيل صناعي بها و التي تتنوع بين أكثر من شكل مختلف حيث يوجد النجيل المتداخل ، النحيف و العريض شركة تنسيق حدائق أيضا و جميع تلك الأنواع متوفرة في شركة لاندسكيب بالقاهرة من أجل أن تحقق إليكم الخدمات التي ترغبون شركة تجهيزات حمامات سباحة في الحصول عليها و ذلك لأننا متميزون في مجال تركيب النجيل الصناعي و نحاول أن نلبي جميع احتياجات عملائنا

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  5. إن عرقلة الأنابيب والصرف الصحي هي تسليك مجاري بالكويت واحدة من أسوأ المشاكل التي يواجهها تسليك مجاري الكويت رب البيت ويمكن الآن حلها بسهولة من قبل أفضل الشركات لتنظيف المجاري في الكويت تسليك مجاري على أعلى مستوى ، لأن مشكلة انسداد المجاري تؤثر على وجود روائح كريهة تسليك مجاري بالكويت لا تحظى بشعبية لجميع أعضاء المنزل وتؤثر على الناس

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  6. تعتبر الواجهات شركة تنظيف بدبي من أهم الأماكن التي يجب تنظيفها على أكمل وجه، حيث أن نظافة شركة تنظيف بالشارقة الواجهات هي دليل على نظافة المنزل؛ لهذا شركة تنظيف بدبي يجب الاهتمام بها بشكل كبير وذلك من خلال شركة تنظيف فى دبي التواصل مع شركة تنظيف واجهات منازل في الشارقة شركة تنظيف بعجمان فإن الشركة سوف تتمكن من القيام بهذه المهمة مع اختلاف أنواع المنظفات

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  7. عندما يكون هناك ارتباط بين عملية التنظيف شركة تنظيف شقق بمكة وانتشار الأمراض والجراثيم شركة مكافحة حشرات بمكة يجب ان يتم التخلص من جميع الأتربة والأوساخ في المكان مثل الشقة او الفيلا او المنزل الذي نعيش بداخله شركة مكافحة حشرات بالطائف حتى يتم حماية أطفالنا من خطر الإصابة بالأمراض وتوفر شركة تنظيف منازل بمكة جميع خدمات شركة تنظيف خزانات بالطائف التنظيف سواء التنظيف العادي او خدمات غسيل شقق بمكة او غسيل منازل بمكة شركة تنظيف خزانات بمكة ومن أهم ما يتم القيام به لخروج الخدمة بصورة مشرفة أمام العملاء

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  8. نحن متخصصون في مجال التنظيف بالبخار لثقتنا شركة تنظيف بالبخار بجدة الدائمة في أن النظافة وحدها لا تكفى ويجب أن نوفر التعقيم شركة تنظيف بالبخار بمكة والتطهير معها لضمان مكان نظيف وصحي شركة تنظيف بجدة خالي تماماً من البكتريا والجراثيم خاصة شركة نقل عفش بمكة في وجود الأطفال فالبخار تقنية شديدة التأثير في قتل البكتريا والجراثيم لذلك نحرص على استخدامه ونوفر شركة تنظيف سجاد بالبخار بجدة أحدث التقنيات التي تعمل بالبخار لتقديم خدمات على مستوى عالي من الدقة والإتقان وتقوم

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  9. وقد اثبتت الدراسة والابحاث ان تلوث مياه الخزان شركة نقل عفش بجدة نتيجة المواد المصنوع منها الخزان ويعتبرافضل انواع الخزانات المصنوعة شركة تنظيف بالبخار بجدة من الحديد المجلفن او المصنوع من الزجاج وهم واقل عرضه للتلوث واغلاقه بطريقة جيدة فحرصا منا نحن شركة غسيل خزانات بالطائف شركة مكافحة حشرات بمكة على صحتنا وصحة اطفالنا يجب شركة تنظيف خزانات بالطائف تنظيف خزان المياه بصفة دورية حتى نتفادى جميع الامراض شركة تنظيف كنب بدبي ونقي اولادنا وانفسنا منها ونستخدم الخزان المصنوع من الصلب الغير قابل للصدا والمصرح به من وزارة الصحة.

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  10. عملية النظافة يجب ان تكون سلوك لدي المتواجدين شركة تنظيف بمكة في المكان فلا يمكن ان يتم إجبار فرد على التنظيف شركة مكافحة حشرات بمكة والعيش في مكان خالي من الأتربة اذا لم يكن لدية ذلم السلوك الحضاري الراقي شركة تنظيف بالبخار بمكة وعليه يجب على الأفراد دائما مساعدة شركة نقل عفش بمكة افراد العائلة أثناء عميلة التنظيف وزرع ورح شركة تنظيف خزانات بمكة النظافة داخل أبنائنا وأسرنا وعندما تتعرض إلى الاوساخ الصعبة فان في الجوار

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  11. يمكنك التواصل مع شركة تنظيف بدبي في أي وقت من أجل أن يقوم فريق العمال شركة تنظيف بالشارقة و الخبراء بالحضور إلى المنزل في الميعاد الذي تقوم شركة تنظيف بعجمان بتحديده حيث أن الفريق معروف بمدى التزامه بالمواعيد و الاتقان شركة تنظيف بابو ظبي في العمل فنحن نرغب في توفير الخدمة المثالية التي تمكنا من الحصول شركة تنظيف كنب بدبي على ثقة العميل الكبيرة بنا فنحن نجتهد لكي نستحق تلك الثقة بشكل مستمر

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  12. يعمل فريق الخبراء على تقديم التصاميم حجر هاشمى هيصم المختلفة الخاصة بالمطابخ أو الحمامات شركة تنظيف بدبي و يمكنك الاختيار فيما بينها و هذا من خلال حجر مايكا تسليك مجاري بالكويت الذي يعمل على توفير الدعم و القوة على الغرف الموجودة في المنزل و تتعامل الشركة رقم صباغ رخيص بالكويت معكم بأقل الاسعار و التكاليف التي فني كهرباء منازل بالكويت لا مثيل لها في أي مكان آخر

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